Making Deals with the Devil
By Jim Miller
As inspiring as the big marches were last week, it didn’t take long for evidence to emerge that there are still plenty of folks in the Democratic party and elsewhere who just don’t get what time it is. As I wrote on Martin Luther King Jr. day, it was dismaying to see prominent Democrats like Senator Cory Booker and twelve of his Big Pharma funded friends vote against Bernie Sanders’ effort to reduce prescription drug prices before the inauguration.
And that low bar was then pushed a bit further down when ex-Democratic Vice Presidential candidate and consummate corporate tool, Joe Lieberman, gleefully presented Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos while slamming American public education at her confirmation hearing. At that same hearing, Lieberman also failed to disclose that his law firm represents Trump.
How Not to Be the Resistance
Apparently those Hall of Shame moments were just the warm up for more to come. It would only take a day or so after Trump’s installment for 14 more Democrats including Clinton’s Vice Presidential pick Tim Kaine, minority leader Chuck Schumer, and California’s own Diane Feinstein to fall in line behind our fearless leader’s choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, even after he left the door open for torture as an interrogation tactic.
If this were not bad enough, even progressive heroes, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, overcame their reservations about Ben Carson, who has called the Fair Housing Act “a failed Socialist experiment,” and voted to support the stunningly unqualified ideologue for Housing Secretary.
Of course, there will be those who choose to ignore these positions and votes in the name of normalization, arguing that, unlike the Tea Party, Democrats are good NPR-listening liberals who don’t believe in lock-step ideology or shutting down the government for partisan reasons.
A new President, the argument goes, deserves to be able to choose his cabinet. The problem with that line of thinking is that it is a surrender to right-wing extremism and, more importantly, very bad politics during what amounts to an existential threat to our democracy. Not to mention that NPR might not be around much longer after the Republicans privatize it.
At present, Democrats don’t need to be better than the Tea Party–they need to learn from the Tea Party’s strategy and tactics. For instance, we will soon have a hard-right Supreme Court pick thrust upon us because the Republicans effectively stonewalled Obama and pushed the pick of the next justice onto President Trump’s plate. The Republicans deserve to have that favor repaid in spades but the early indications are that the will may be lacking in key figures of the minority party.
Can they stop much? No. Should they be constantly drawing lines of opposition and doing everything they can to hinder and slow Trump’s agenda while the opposition builds? Absolutely.
This doesn’t necessarily mean voting no on every single item, but one might at least expect better than we have been seeing thus far. For God’s sake, let the Republicans own the torture argument, stand up to Big Pharma, and call out the former Vice Presidential Democratic candidate for being a disgusting shill for the worst of the worst of rightwing hacks. That should not be too much to ask. And progressives should demand it. End of story.
Hiring One-Half of the Working Class to Kill the Other
Finally, I would be remiss if I laid all the early problems at the feet of the reliably feckless Democrats in Washington and did not note what was perhaps the biggest Judas moment of the first week of the reign of error. That belongs to the national labor leaders from the building trades who showed up to the White House to express their “common bond” with Trump only days after the biggest inaugural weekend protests in history had given some much-needed encouragement to beleaguered progressives.
It should be noted that the national leadership of the trades does not speak for all of their members or locals as here in San Diego and elsewhere many in the trades stood in solidarity with the protesters at Standing Rock and have been working hard on promoting green jobs. But the national leaders who met with Trump clearly weren’t listening to the more progressive voices in their ranks.
Eager to get a cheap piece of the pie from Trump’s proposed infrastructure initiative, these union “leaders” went out front despite the fact that the administration was gearing up for a massive assault on public sector workers through budget cuts and privatization that will accompany massive tax cuts for corporations and the very rich. Oh yeah, and they shared the room with the infamous Steve Bannon formerly of white supremacist loving Breitbart who envisioned them as part of his populist right revolution.
Worse still, in the wake of their love fest with the climate denier in chief, the same folks issued a press release praising Trump for reviving the climate-killing Keystone Pipeline and committing to finishing the DAPL.
This should not be a surprise as years earlier, in 2012, LIUNA national president Terry O’Sullivan had lambasted those in labor who acknowledge climate change and are fighting for a future of more sustainable green jobs rather than the suicide path of the fossil fuel related industry, saying, “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”
Well, now it’s clear that O’Sullivan and his allies may be repulsed by those who care about our children’s future, but not so averse to selling out the long-term interests, in fact, the very survival, of the labor movement for a chimeric short term gain.
Indeed, as anyone who has been paying attention knows, the Trump administration has just nominated the worst Labor Secretary ever (who does not believe in the rights of workers), committed to cutting or privatizing vast swaths of the public sector (which will eviscerate the largest segment of the American labor movement), and wants to impose national right to work, a move that, if successful, would shrink the unionized segment of the workforce down to the size, where it can be drowned in a bathtub, as Grover Norquist said of the right’s aim for government.
As Naomi Klein put it in an acid Tweet, “Most shameful part of this shameful week: seeing key US union leaders bought off by a fascist with a couple dirty pipes and tour of the Oval.”
Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.
So, as soon as the Republicans reject the Democrats’ rival infrastructure plan, we will see how far the national leadership of the trades will go. Will they embrace Trump for chump change or will they see the bigger picture and realize that the fight needs to be about the survival of the entire labor movement? If they go with Trump, it will illustrate that the Robber Baron of old, Jay Gould, was right when he said, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other.”
And after that half is gone, they’ll be next.